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The counsel you get from people as you prepare to get married ranges across a wide spectrum. There are those that give you glowing reviews about how they’ve maintained the passion even with five kids and lots of setbacks and those who say, “Marriage is the pits. Good luck.” Encouraging. Some people say how hard the first year of marriage is and some say that the newly-wed bliss is hardly a true sample of what your marriage will actually look like.
Those seasoned in marriage have wisdom I value and cannot offer, but as I look through the lens of “the honeymoon phase”, I see that there are tangible reasons that newly-wed bliss exists—reasons even those 30 years into marriage may be able to learn from.
Spontaneity and Surprises
The whole first two weeks of December I kept talking about how much I wanted a Christmas tree. Our budget was a tight and our apartment small, but I wanted something to make it feel like the Christmas season. My sister gave us some décor, but I still missed a Christmas tree in the corner. I repeated my desire often aloud, not really seeking for my husband to do anything about it (and knowing we didn’t have much money to spend on a tree anyway), but hoping that somehow, some way, we could get a tree before Christmas.
One day, my schedule was especially crazy and I ran around all day trying to get everything done. As I tiredly walked up the stairs to our apartment and opened the door, my husband was sitting at the kitchen table with dinner ready, and the apartment was aglow with Christmas—candles about the room, a fire video on the TV (the epitome of romance, am I right?), a nativity set out, and stockings hung. I immediately burst into tears and wept as we ate the meal he had prepared. Then he asked if we could go on a date to pick out a little Christmas tree to buy with a gift card from our wedding. My not-so-secret Christmas wish was fulfilled.
We surprise each other in big ways sometimes, but often times it’s the small surprises that mean a lot—buying their favorite treat at the store, doing all the laundry and folding it nicely in the drawers, a surprise movie night after a long day at work, a note on a pillow or mirror. Surprises show you are thinking of each other even when you aren’t together and keep the sparks flying even when you’re on a tight budget or have a busy schedule.
Seek to Communicate About and Fill Each Other’s Needs
What can be surprising to people who have known each other for a while is that someone who knows you better than anyone may still have a hard time anticipating what your needs are. While doing a long-distance engagement over the summer before we got married, we decided to read a book together called “His Needs, Her Needs”. The book outlines some general needs men and women tend to have and encourages couples to communicate openly about what needs they have, what needs should take priority, and how they can best fill those needs.
It seems a little dry and formulaic to say, “You know what, I need you to share lots of details about your day with me. That would make me happy,” or, “I would feel loved if you helped around the house more,” but knowing exactly what your spouse needs to make them feel loved or to “fill their love buckets” goes a long way to creating unity and feeling safe and taken care of.
In one of our discussions about the book and our needs, my husband told me making meals for him would make him feel loved. This is not a “make me a sandwich, woman” kind of need, but a need to feel taken care of and secure. I am not one to cook, in fact most people knew before I got married, I hated cooking. But because I know it is a tool I can use to serve and help my husband feel loved, I have come to enjoy it. Likewise, I have communicated what makes me feel loved and he strives to fill those needs (i.e. asking me lots of questions, reaching out to people I care about, supporting me in my goals).
Express Gratitude and Love Daily
Not a day goes by without telling each other we love each other, but beyond that, we also verbally express to each other daily how grateful we are for each other and for how the other person blesses us.
From almost day one, my husband decided he would be the primary dish and laundry doer. Even though it’s becoming more normal for him to do those chores, I always make sure to hug him and thank him for what he does to keep our home clean. Instead of letting it become normal and something to be taken for granted, he expresses genuine gratitude when I cook a meal or make the bed.
Expressing gratitude goes further than completing household chores, however. Whenever I go out of my way to serve someone or he reaches out to one of my siblings or I get one step closer to a goal or he attends the temple, we thank each other for choosing goodness and striving to be better. “I love the person you choose to be. I love who you are becoming.” If that is not motivation to do and be better always, I don’t know what is.
Establish Habits That Connect
Beginning a new life in marriage means the establishment of habits and traditions that will help and build or erode and tear down. We knew that something we wanted to weave into the fabric of our current and future family was gospel habits. We strive to pray together morning and night, read scriptures together every day, attend the temple together twice a month, and be diligent in our Come, Follow Me lessons. Maintaining these habits has brought a spirit into our home that invites revelation and peace.
Gospel habits are vital, but so are other traditions that create a couple culture between you. We go on a date once a week, whether we have a low budget and we make a blanket fort in the living room or we go to a concert or movie, we make sure to have time together away from our everyday responsibilities. My husband’s mission president gave us a gratitude journal for our wedding with 365 days of gratitude, so each night we list out 3-5 things together we are grateful for from the day. We also have a three-year journal with a question for everyday and a spot for each of us to answer. We have fun answering sincere and silly questions every day. After we turn the lights out, we talk about our “highs and lows” from the day—the happiest part and the hardest part. These little traditions that seem silly, encourage communication and laughter and help us to celebrate what is good and be honest about things we are struggling with.
The other night, my husband and I were discussing whether we should sell one of our cars or not. To him, selling it would give us more money for other things and he knew we could make do without it. To me, it was a matter of my independence and mobility. It’s funny how something as silly as a car can represent something bigger emotionally. I needed him to understand my point of view, and he wanted to feel validated in his. Finally, he said, “I’m so grateful we see this differently. This gives us the opportunity to learn from each other and expand our understanding of each other.”
To believe that there will never be moments of disagreement is naïve, but these hard moments don’t have to be moments of panic or separation. The reality is, two people, no matter how similar, come from different backgrounds and contexts. Something so deeply engrained in you as the importance of frugality may clash with the fundamental necessity your spouse has for independence. When we disagree, it can serve to enhance rather than detract from your relationship.
Seeing it this way is part of accepting imperfection. Because we are new to this whole marriage thing, we know we won’t be perfect at it yet. We know things will go wrong sometimes or we won’t fulfill each other’s needs perfectly all the time. We allow each other to try again. We seek to learn every day about how to do things better and create a happy life together. I’m finding that it is in that constant, concerted seeking—being willing to accept advice, observing other successful marriages, making adjustments to help each other achieve goals, etc.—that our marriage bliss is found.